Education Funding

Calif. District Slashes School Sports for Fall

By John Gehring — March 24, 2004 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The school board of the West Contra Costa, Calif., district has voted to eliminate all sports programs and close school libraries in the fall, prompting expressions of outrage from parents and students and an outpouring of financial support from local businesses.

After voters narrowly rejected a “parcel tax” sought by the district, board members said they had no choice but to slash $16.5 million from the 35,000- student district’s $181 million budget. The tax on residential and commercial buildings would have raised about $7.5 million a year for five years at an annual cost of about $80 per property.

“It was painful,” said Charles Ramsey, the board president. “Board members were very sad at the list of cuts that had to be made.”

But just four days after the March 8 board vote, the board voted to put another parcel-tax measure before voters in June that would raise $8 million and restore some of the affected programs.

Among other reductions, the district plans to lay off 201 of its approximately 4,000 employees, including school counselors, librarians, psychologists, and elementary music teachers.

“We have made the cuts,” Mr. Ramsey said. “This is the community’s opportunity to return the services. If they weren’t aware of the tax measure before, they will be now.”

Student athletes, coaches, and parents around the district—which serves a diverse mix of low-income and middle-class families across the bay from San Francisco—have criticized the severity of the cuts. Students at several schools walked out of class to protest the cuts. At Hercules Middle/High School, students held a mock funeral to mourn the possible loss of sports.

“Without sports, some kids wouldn’t bother going to class,” said 15-year-old Robin Bethea, a freshman who plays football and baseball for De Anza High School in Richmond, Calif. “There would be a lot of kids on the street.”

Like other athletes, he said he would consider transferring to a private school if sports are gone next fall.

His mother, Lisa Jones, worries that without the structure and discipline of athletics, her son and 16-year-old daughter, a cheerleader, would lose their focus on schoolwork.

“We use the extracurriculars as motivation to do well in school,” Ms. Jones said. “It teaches them responsibility.”

Troubled History

According to the California Interscholastic Federation, which oversees school sports in the state, the West Contra Costa district would be the first in the state to eliminate all athletic programs because of financial problems.

The local business community has given students and families some reasons for hope, however.

The Safeway Foundation donated $50,000 to the district last week and challenged other San Francisco Bay-area corporations to match the donation. The Wells Fargo Bank of the Greater Bay Area chipped in $50,000, and Mechanics Bank gave $25,000. The Oakland Athletics baseball team has promised that half the ticket revenues from three games will go to the district.

Roy Rogers, the athletic director at Richmond High School, said the community support was reason to be cautiously optimistic. “The way things are shaping up now,” he said, “we should be able to right this situation.”

The West Contra Costa Unified School District has been plagued by a history of financial woes.

In 1991, what was then called the Richmond Unified district nearly went bankrupt before the state took it over and provided a $29 million bailout loan. The district, in fact, pays $1.8 million a year on the loan, which will not be fully paid off until 2018.

“It’s a huge burden,” said Gloria Johnston, the district’s superintendent.

Add in skyrocketing health-insurance expenses, which cost the district $9.5 million this year, and not much fat remains to be cut. The district has an unusually generous health-care plan, negotiated with teachers 30 years ago, that provides full medical coverage for employees and their spouses for life.

Making West Contra Costa’s challenge even greater, Superintendent Johnston said, is the estimated loss of some 800 students next fall as families continue to leave expensive urban areas. The enrollment loss is expected to cost the district almost $5 million in state funds.

Bob Blattner, the vice president of School Services of California, a Sacramento- based consulting and advocacy group that has done lobbying work for the district, said the West Contra Costa schools are unfairly hamstrung by an interest rate that is much higher than what other districts pay.

While West Contra Costa pays interest of 5.6 percent on its state loan, the Oakland district pays 1.7 percent and the West Fresno schools pay 1.9 percent, he said. Legislation passed last summer and signed into law by then-Gov. Gray Davis gives the state department of finance the authority to adjust the district’s loan rate.

But the law did not go into effect until Jan. 1, and under the administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the department has not acted to make changes.

“There can be no real legitimate reason to burden the schoolchildren in West Contra Costa with a loan rate three times higher than those currently being paid by West Fresno and Oakland,” Mr. Blattner said. “The state should not be in the business of profiting from arbitrage in schools.”

On March 16, two state senators and two members of the Assembly, the legislature’s lower house, wrote a letter to Gov. Schwarzenegger requesting a refinancing of the loan. The lawmakers said such a deal would save the district between $400,000 and $600,000 a year.

Related Tags:

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Funding Reported Essay Are We Asking Schools to Do Too Much?
Schools are increasingly being saddled with new responsibilities. At what point do we decide they are being overwhelmed?
5 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Education Funding Interactive Look Up How Much COVID Relief Aid Your School District is Getting
The federal government gave schools more than $190 billion to help them recover from the pandemic. But the money was not distributed evenly.
2 min read
Education Funding Explainer Everything You Need to Know About Schools and COVID Relief Funds
How much did your district get in pandemic emergency aid? When must the money be spent? Is there more on the way? EdWeek has the answers.
11 min read
090221 Stimulus Masks AP BS
Dezirae Espinoza wears a face mask while holding a tube of cleaning wipes as she waits to enter Garden Place Elementary School in Denver for the first day of in-class learning since the start of the pandemic.
David Zalubowski/AP
Education Funding Why Dems' $82 Billion Proposal for School Buildings Still Isn't Enough
Two new reports highlight the severe disrepair the nation's school infrastructure is in and the crushing district debt the lack of federal and state investment has caused.
4 min read
Founded 55 years ago, Foust Elementary received its latest update 12-25 years ago for their HVAC units. If the school receives funds from the Guilford County Schools bond allocation, they will expand classrooms from the back of the building.
Community members in Guilford, N.C. last week protested the lack of new funding to improve the district's crumbling school facilities.
Abby Gibbs/News & Record via AP